WNC aims to continue draft trend

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One of the great mysteries of sports is the amateur baseball draft. With the largest pool of players under consideration for draft selection than any other major sport and ball players being scouted from a variety different levels, there is plenty of uncertainty to go around.

Even with a 40-round format, many outstanding players go unselected by a Major League Baseball team.

The draft begins at 4 p.m. on Thursday on the MLB Network. Fans can follow the final two days of the draft on MLB.com. Rounds 3-10 begin at 10 a.m. on Friday and rounds 11-40 commence at 10 a.m. Saturday.

However, a draft hasn’t gone by without at least one Western Nevada College player being selected since the Wildcat program formed in 2006.

“I think the draft is highly unpredictable and difficult to even imagine how it might turn out,” said Western Nevada College coach D.J. Whittemore.

Whittemore expects as many as two players from his 2014 team and as many as four of his formers players to have their name called as the draft unfolds Thursday through Saturday.

“We will watch with anticipation and be very proud when our players are selected,” Whittemore said. “We are always excited to see our players drafted; after all, that is what they all work so hard to achieve. It is even more exciting when they sign contracts and start their minor league careers.”

The Wildcat most likely positioned prospect for selection is outfielder/pitcher Conor Harber. Harber was selected in the 38th round by the Baltimore Orioles last year after hitting. 411 with 11 triples.

“I’d been talking with a couple of teams, so I knew I had a chance of going,” Harber said following last year’s draft.

A year later, Harber enters the draft as a more polished pitcher, having led the Wildcats with an 8-0 record and 2.49 earned run average.

Harber, who has already signed with the University of Oregon of the Pac-12, once again topped the Wildcats with a .331 batting average.

Whittemore believes Harber’s two-year teammate, Christian Stolo, warrants selection as well. The left-handed pitcher (6-3) overcame several injuries to finish the season strong. Stolo’s 2.73 ERA was third on the team, and he wound up second to Harber with 69 strikeouts in 66 innings. He also hit .263 with 10 doubles and 17 RBI.

The University of Nevada, Reno signed Stolo to a letter of intent last November.

Among former WNC players who have gone on to play for other college baseball programs, Whittemore wouldn’t be surprised to see Cody Hamlin, Andrew Woeck, Taylor Smart and Derrick Pitts chosen before the draft winds up.

Hamlin, WNC’s top hurler in 2013, made an immediate impact on the Arizona Wildcats pitching staff. The redshirt sophomore finished the 2014 season with a 5-5 record and 3.94 ERA. Hamlin led the Wildcats with 16 starts and was second on the staff with 107 1/3 innings pitched and 60 strikeouts.

Since Stolo, Harber and Hamlin still have college eligibility remaining, they have more to consider if selected by a MLB team.

“Each individual player will seek counseling from our staff based on a variety of factors including their eligibility, scholarship situation, family situation, round and bonus,” Whittemore said. “Normally, we do not play a large role; rather we encourage our players to make the best decision for their goals and aspirations. In the past, our players have always done a good job academically, which allows them the freedom and flexibility to chose between two great options.”

Smart, Woeck and Pitts were all members of WNC’s 2012 team that qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series.

Woeck, a right-handed pitcher who provided the Wildcats with 15 wins in 2011-12, had two outstanding seasons with the North Carolina State Wolf Pack. Although his second season was cut short by injury, Woeck posted an 8-2 career pitching mark for the Wolfpack, while coming out of the bullpen for the most part.

In 11 appearances this spring, Woeck was 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA along with 41 strikeouts in 29 innings.

Smart flourished during his two seasons as a middle infielder for the Tennessee Volunteers. He hit 25 points higher as a senior, finishing with a .292 average, as well as four homers, 37 runs scored and 29 RBI.

Like Harber and Stolo, Pitts brings the versatility as a pitcher and position player to the draft board.

In 2013, Pitts hit .304 with nine homers, 12 doubles and 55 RBI for Lee University in Cleveland. In his final season for the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series runner-up, Pitts launched four homers, three triples and 15 doubles while batting .338 overall. But he also became one of Lee’s primary pitchers out of the bullpen, finishing with a 2-2 record, a team-best seven saves and a 2.76 ERA.


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